THE OPAL FORTUNES AND MISFORTUNES OF BENNY-WOJCIECHOWSKI – When John Bernard Benny-Wojciechowski angrily kicked a clod of earth, cursing God for failing to reward all of his misfortunes, God sent him an answer. What he kicked turned out to be a nugget of gold, which he came across after many months of hard and futile work. The irreverent and rather nobly named John may have been blind with anger, but his instinct told him to pick the lump from the ground. What looked like a red, boring and uninteresting lump of dirt was, in fact, a rock with a hidden heart of gold.
The life of a gold prospector is a hit and miss affair — there are never guarantees of fortune. Exceptional characters, however, keep chasing their providence on the sheer strength of conviction. So was the blaspheming and fist-shaking John convinced that his fate was to discover many “treasures”. And the Australian soil obliged, revealing its rich, secret bounty to him bit by bit.
His ‘walkabout’ began in 1948, when Benny-Wojciechowski jumped ship — an English merchant vessel — at Freemantle, Western Australia. When he got off of the boat, John chucked a bag of oranges over his back, got on a cheaply acquired second-hand bike and rode off into the Australian outback to chase his dreams.
Benny-Wojciechowski’s adventure was inspired by his great Polish compatriot, the early explorer Paul Edmund Strzelecki. He preceded Wojciechowski’s Australian arrival by exactly one hundred and nine years. John had a great supporter in Walter (Wally) Lucas, a sailor from Brisbane whom he met in England. As the story goes, Wally bankrolled the first days of John’s stay in Australia, and a great friendship was born.
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